Day 27 – Villa Adriana and Villa D’Este

Today I take off on a day tour outside of Rome. The weather is cloudy, and it might rain so I take an umbrella just in case. The bus passes by a boys’ school still yet to open. The makeshift awning captures much of Rome’s ambience from what I’ve seen. Work is underway for the Big Jubilee Year that Pope Francis has declared for 2025 with the theme “Hope Does Not Disappoint.” I guess that may be the opposite of the saying “Don’t get your hopes up.” Pilgrims from around the world will come to Rome, so the city is trying to clean up its act. It can only hope.

The day tour goes to Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este, both about 18 miles east of Rome near the town of Tivoli. Villa Adriana, or Hadrian’s Villa, was designed by the Emperor Hadrian between 118 and 138 A.D. The town of Tivoli, where Villa d’Este is located, sits on a hill seen from Hadrian’s Villa.

Hadrian’s Villa is surrounded by ancient olive trees and wildflowers. It’s great to get out of the city.

Hadrian traveled the world and brought back ideas for his villa from other cultures. From Greece he also brought back Antinous, a youth who became his lover. They used to meet here for their trysts. The guide reminds us that the walls were covered in marble and the statues had color that’s now faded.

Love these old olive trees. The Tivoli area is known for its excellent olive oil. Our guide tells us that Hadrian designed those diamond-shaped blocks to build sturdy walls. He was very involved in design and architecture.

This pond is quite lovely. Next to the pond are enormous terme, or baths, a very large one for Hadrian and a smaller one for Sabina, his wife. Underneath the grounds are tunnels used by slaves to cook, carry food, clean and all that.

Next we visit Villa d’Este, built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, Lucrezia Borgia’s son, in the mid-1500s. Many of the elements, both architectural ideas and building materials, were taken from Hadrian’s Villa to create the Villa d’Este. It is an enormous estate, renowned for its numerous fountains.

An aside: I read that Ippolito d’Este was named Archbishop of Milan when he was ten years old.

Overwhelmed by dazzling baroque walls and ceilings, I follow the guide as he walks way too quickly through the many rooms.

This mosaic was transported from Hadrian’s Villa piece by piece and reconstructed for Villa d’Este. This ceiling has a very rare 3-dimensional mosaic design.

Our guide Giuseppe points out a mural in one room that shows the magnificent fountain system in the gardens.

Wikipedia describes Villa d’Este’s fountain system: “an extraordinary system of fountains; fifty-one fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by 875 metres of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps.”

OMG I can’t believe it.

Grotesque faces, a decorative element popular at the time, are also in the garden.

All those faces popping out of the greenery are mascarons, or grotesques. Normally they are spouting water. Unfortunately, a storm the night before has made the river muddy, and thus it’s impossible to run the fountains. Our guide emphasizes that Villa d’Este, as a UNESCO Heritage Site, does not belong to Italy, but belongs to humanity. UNESCO makes the rules on when the fountains can be run.

One can imagine the water, but a gentleman on the tour complains that the only reason he came on the tour was the fountains. He had seen them in the past, and he wants to see them again. He has severe problems letting the disappointment go. I stay clear of him and his toxic whining.

It’s a beautiful day. Our guide points out this enormous fountain that (when water is running) plays an organ hidden behind the wooden door. Later I went to Youtube and found the audio. Sounds like an organ, but how does it work?

Back in the town of Tivoli, I wander a bit in the narrow streets and find this artwork hanging from a building facade.

And more modern “art” right around the corner.

Back in Rome, I want to visit Diocletian’s Baths, across from the Termini Train Station. It is closed due to a photo shoot. The receptionist tells me to come back on Sunday, when entrance is free.

Nearing back “home,” I hear some singing and find this religious procession winding its way down the street. I ask one of the policemen who has come out to guard the small group what’s up. He tells me something about San Giuseppe, although it is not his day. I understand from his explanation something like, “They do this all this time.”

The ubiquitous dog walkers have an evening diversion. Across the street is a enoteca, a wine shop/bar, where I see some the customers sitting out on the sidewalk laughing and making snarky comments. To each his own.

Tomorrow I will wash clothes. Maybe I’ll do more, but today I walked 22, 059 steps, so I may be lucky just to get my clothes washed.

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